HC Deb 03 March 1964 vol 690 cc1138-9

3.45 p.m.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

I beg to move. That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Pharmacy Act, 1954. My proposed Bill has one merit, in that it is very short. It has only two Clauses and the principal Clause seeks to amend Section 14 of the Pharmacy Act, 1954, which provides that every registered pharmaceutical chemist shall by virtue of registration be a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

The Bill would allow those qualified pharmacists who have conscientious objections based on religious beliefs to be registered as pharmaceutical chemists without, at the same time, being forced to belong to the Pharmaceutical Society. It was my good fortune, as a private Member, to introduce the principal 1954 Act and to see it through to the Statute Book. If I had been aware of this point at the time I was drafting that Bill, I should have drafted Section 14 in such a way as to make this amendment possible.

The Pharmaceutical Society has been consulted about this matter throughout. It agrees in principle to the Bill as now drafted—indeed, it has been drafted in consultation with the Society—but I want to make clear that comparatively few pharmacists are affected by Section 14 of the Act as it now stands. It was some years after the passing of the Act before those pharmacists felt increasingly concerned about their position as members of a Society which seemed to conflict with their religious beliefs completely and they could no longer remain members of the Society. They therefore resigned, or ceased registration, as the only way of resigning from the Society.

The Pharmaceutical Society tried to find a solution to this problem for some time, but failed to do so. Eventually, a small number of practising and qualified pharmacists were removed from the Register and since 1958 a small number of those who have qualified as pharmaceutical chemists have been unable to register for exactly the same reason.

These pharmacists have very strong religious convictions which prevent them from becoming members of the Society. Their convictions have led them to accept the severe penalty which has arisen as a result of being denied registration. It has meant that they have had to cease practising and give up their business or give up positions as managers of pharmaceutical firms. They have been prepared to do this because of this matter of conscience.

The House has always recognised matters of conscience based upon sincerely held beliefs. I am sure that no one would wish qualified men and women of this kind to be penalised by reason of strongly held beliefs. I want to make it clear that this amendment of the law does not change in any way the other conditions of the Act, conditions relating to the professional qualifications which are necessary before a person can be registered, conditions as to the payment of registration fees, and so on. It merely gives to those who do not want to be forced to become members of the Pharmaceutical Society as opposed to being registered as pharmaceutical chemists, an opportunity to opt out of that provision.

The Pharmaceutical Society accepts the principle of this proposed amending Bill. As sponsor of the original Act, I am very glad indeed to have this opportunity of trying to amend this small defect in an otherwise excellent Act, and I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Hall.

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